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The state of digital asset management

This article appears in the issue November/December 2008, [Vol 17, Issue 10]
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Digital media—photos, audio files, video clips, Flash animations, games and banner ads, PDF documents and Web pages—have become an increasingly significant part of our everyday experience. The management of digital media throughout its lifetime—regardless of final output medium—is the general domain of digital asset management (DAM).

At CMS Watch, we recently conducted a 6-month research project, doing critical product evaluations of 18 DAM tools and looking at the overall DAM market. Through extensive interviews with users of the software products, we gained deep insight into how well DAM software is meeting the everyday needs of businesses.|

Digital asset management technology has made significant strides in maturity, but remains a highly fragmented and specialized industry, where many customers are forsaking "name" players in favor of niche or hosted solutions. DAM vendors generally "grew up" specializing in a specific area, such as photo library services (useful for museums and traditional publishers), brand asset management (for managing graphics and other brand collateral) or video management/management of time-based assets (vital for broadcasters). Many buyers of DAM technology pick their vendor based on their area of specialization, and rightly so, because few vendors perform very well in more than one or two scenarios.

Current trends

As we spoke with DAM industry veterans, system users and vendors for our research, several trends emerged:

  • Larger adoption of the Extensible Metadata Platform (XMP) for managing metadata around assets. While most vendors boast support for Adobe’s standard that allows metadata to "travel" with an asset, not all support of XMP is created equally. Some vendors extract XMP metadata from an asset as it’s ingested into the system and store it in a separate repository, while others (such as Media Beacon) keep the metadata and asset as one, but still use the XMP information to manage the asset. Vendors are likely to continue to focus on XMP as a key way to unlock and manage an asset’s metadata.
  • Renewed focus on digital rights management (DRM). Although maintaining digital rights is vital in many DAM and media asset management (MAM) scenarios, few vendors have a solid solution to that need and are looking to create one. If DRM is important to you, be sure to look at how a vendor’s DRM capabilities stack up when you create your short list.
  • Lack of real asset workflow solutions. Compared to the other technologies we cover at CMS Watch, DAM systems have comparably weak workflow capabilities. Many DAM processes are complex, and many asset managers have required third-party tools to create truly automated workflows.
  • Increased need for enterprise system integration, DAM to Web content management systems in particular. Many asset managers wish to distribute products via the Web, and thus have a business need to merge those two technologies, making an easier bridge to cross. Therefore, many asset managers and industry veterans see the concept of the DAM system as the "single source of truth" as a bit antiquated because the repository needs to serve multiple platforms.
  • More focus on Web clients vs. the traditional desktop client. As with Web content management and enterprise search tools, vendors are trying to design more dashboard-like experiences for their Web client, and so far, few have achieved the same functionality from Web clients as they have with the desktop thick clients.
  • Divergent product builds. DAM vendors historically have spent a lot of time doing implementation, and as a result, there are a lot of aggregate solutions out there that aren’t necessarily part of the core product. As a buyer, be cautious and make sure what you see is what you’re going to get.
  • Workgroup solutions hitting the ceiling. Some of the smaller vendors we evaluated face challenges as their customer asset bases grow, requiring them to integrate with more complex enterprise systems.
  • Increase in software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based DAM. Widen, a pure-play SaaS vendor, has seen quite a bit of growth since early 2007, and ClearStory Systems experienced an uptick in the SaaS area during Q1 2008 despite other corporate turmoil in late 2007. North Plains  recently debuted an on-demand service. Other vendors may jump on the SaaS bandwagon.
  • Generally weak video support leading to third-party investments. While many vendors support video, it hasn’t quite worked out as the video production and management super tool early DAM proponents envisioned. Part of the problem is the bandwidth required. Many customers of existing DAM products look to buy an Avid (avid.com) server or an Apple (apple.com) Final Cut Pro server to manage and serve video assets. As such, DAM vendors continue to miss the mark on video.

Despite the continued "on the cusp" feel to the DAM market, DAM’s big moment never seems to arrive: always the bridesmaid, but never the bride. As such, many DAM "leaders" were recently on the brink of extinction, some were saved by their now-enterprise content management (ECM) parents, while other vendors chug along as 20-person shops with a core platform on which they build custom solutions for long-term clients.

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